It’s hard to believe that 1993 was thirty years ago, particularly when so much of the music released in that year has stood the test of time so well. Grunge was at its peak, alternative rock had never been more popular, and undergound hip hop culture was breaking through into the mainstream.
It would take an age to list every record from 1993, but here are 15 releases that stand out and still sound just as great today.
Tool – Undertow
Tool have always been a band to think outside the box, and even on their debut album they were showing a technical complexity in their songwriting that the alternative rock world wasn’t ready for. Spawning the beloved singles Sober and Prison Sex, Undertow was the foundation for new breed of metal that would continue to influence bands 30 years later.
Pearl Jam – Vs
Two years prior, Pearl Jam released their debut album, Ten, which is about as iconic as they come. However, they followed it up in 1993 with their magnum opus, Vs. To this day it remains a masterclass in songwriting, with some of the bands best work such as Go, Daughter, Dissident and Animal.
Depeche Mode – Songs of Faith and Devotion
Having spend the previous decade constantly evolving their sound, Depeche Mode traversed new plains on Song of Faith and Devotion. After the darkness of Violator, they expanded that sound by combining their trademark synth-pop with elements of grunge and alternative rock. While other bands failed miserably trying to ride that wave, Depeche Mode fit right in alongside their peers and newer bands.
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
Masterpiece is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but when it comes to Siamese Dream, it’s a fitting superlative. Billy Corgan has always been known for his somewhat hedonistic ways, but taking the creative reins on this album paid off. The layers of guitars that cascade through timeless tracks liek Today, Cherub Rock and Hummer, through the delicate beauty of Disarm and Luna have often been replicated, but never bettered.
PJ Harvey – Rid of Me
Coming only a year removed from her debut album, Dry, PJ Harvey released Rid Of Me to critical acclaim. It had a more aggressive, raw sensibility to it but was no less enchanting. 50ft Queenie and Man-Size are two of her most beloved tracks, and 30 years on Rid Of Me is still cited as one of the greatest albums of all time.
Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu – Tang: 36 Chambers
Few debut albums have managed to leave an impression quite like the Wu-Tang Clan did in 1993 with 36 Chambers. Each member had their own unique lyrical flow, which they used to paint bleak pictures of the New York underworld, with RZA’s gloomy production, classic boom-bap beats and Kung-Fu movie samples thrown in for good measure. It spawned iconic hits such as Bring Da Ruckus, C.R.E.A.M, and Protect Ya Neck, influencing an entire generation of rappers and producers in the process.
A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders
Between Midnight Marauders and 36 Chambers (see above), November 9th might be one of the most import days in hip hop history. Having already made a name for themselves with two fantastic albums, this album has some of the best songwriting, production and chemistry of any hip hop record. When all the members would lock in and be in sync, magic was created on tracks like Award Tour and Electric Relaxation.
Bjork – Debut
Bjork had been releasing music for year’s prior to Debut, both under her full name and with The Sugarcubes, but it was this, her international debut, where she really got to shine. It is a brooding, dark and enchanting body of work, filled with timeless tracks such as Venus As A Boy, Human Behaviour, and Violently Happy. There was also room a pop song or two, though, with Big Time Sensuality becoming a staple of ’90s indie clubs.
Counting Crows – August and Everything After
1993 was filled with strong debut albums, and August and Everything After is no exception. It is a polished, slick, unabashed pop-tinged rock album, that has no skippable tracks. T Bone Burnett’s production brought the best out in the band with the charming singles Rain King and Mr Jone’s, and despite what some people may say about the awkward bridge, Round Here is one of the most perfect side one/track one’s.
The Lemonheads – Come On Feel The Lemonheads
By 1993, The Lemonheads had full morphed from a scrappy punk band to a radio-hit producing juggernaut. It didn’t hurt that frontman Evan Dando was quite the poster boy for slacker rock, too. While you could argue it lacks the cohesion of their previous album, It’s A Shame About Ray, it has a certain charm to it thanks to It’s About Time, Big Gay Heart, and the wonderful Into My Arms.
Slowdive – Souvlaki
Shoegaze might have been a dirty word by 1993, and with bands like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Lush already wanting to move on, Slowdive picked up where they left of on Just For A Day and created a masterpiece. While not as droning as shoegaze can get, the glorious waves of reverb wash over every guitar riff, while the dual vocals of Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead shimmer over the top. It wasn’t appreciated as much as it should have been in its time, but 30 years late Souvalki remains untouchable.
Cypress Hill – Black Sunday
Emerging from the LA hip hop scene in the early nineties, Cypress Hill had already made a name for themselves with their funk samples and up tempo beats, but 1993 saw them venture into darker waters on Black Sunday. While still producing the mega-hit, Insane In The Brain, this was bleak trip through the smokey underworld. To this day, it remains their greatest body of work and still sounds just a relevant.
Nirvana – In Utero
Following the global success of Nevermind in 1991, Nirvana had the world in the palm of their hand – whether they wanted to or not. Rather pick up where the left off, the band put together a discordant barrage of guitar heavy alternative punk with In Utero. Of course there was plenty of melody cutting through the cacophony with tracks like Heart Shaped Box, Pennyroyal Tea and All Apologies, this was a middle finger to corporate rock with major label backing. It was Kurt Cobain’s masterpiece he was born to write.
Quicksand – Slip
Born from the New York hardcore scene when members of Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Burn and Bold wanted to do something different, Quicksand were unlike anything else in their scene. With heavy, down-tuned riffs being the back drop to Walter Schriefels vocals, they would essentially write the alternative metal handbook on their debut album. With everyone from Deftones to Torche taking cues from Slip, it remains a timeless album that’s influence can still be felt today.
Life of Agony – River Runs Red
Much like the aforementioned Quicksand, Life of Agony came from the NYHC, but had more in common with the heavier end of grunge not too dissimilar to Alice In Chains. Mina Caputo’s heart-on-sleeve lyrics were brutally honest and relatable, telling dark stories over the low end guitar riffs and breakdowns. It was a breath of fresh air amongst their more macho leaning contemporaries, with plenty of bands still using River Runs Red as a jumping off point for their own material today.
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